by Ralph Henry
The gong clanged, the last man sprang
aboard, and the car trundled away to the accompaniment
of a final lusty cheer from the
crowd which still lingered in front of the hotel.
Then a corner was turned, and the last long-drawn
“Er-r-rskine!” was cut short by intercepting
walls. The throngs were streaming
out to the field where, on the smooth green
diamond, the rival nines of Robinson and
Erskine were to meet in the deciding game of
the season. For a while the car with its dozen
or so passengers followed the crowds, but presently
it swung eastward toward the railroad,
and then made its way through a portion of
Collegetown, which, to one passenger at least,
looked far from attractive.
Ned Brewster shared one of the last seats
with a big leather bat-bag, and gave himself
over to his thoughts. The mere fact of his
presence there in the special trolley-car as a
substitute on the Erskine varsity nine was
alone wonderful enough to keep his thoughts
busy for a week. Even yet he had not altogether
recovered from his surprise.
Ned had played the season through at center
field on the freshman nine, and had made
a name for himself as a batsman. On Thursday
the freshman team had played its last
game, had met with defeat, and had disbanded.
Ned, trotting off the field, his heart bitter with
disappointment at the outcome of the final contest,
had heard his name called, and had turned
to confront “Big Jim” Milford, the varsity
“I wish you would report at the varsity
table to-night, Brewster,” Milford had said.
Then he had turned abruptly away, perhaps
to avoid smiling outright at the expression of
bewilderment on the freshman’s countenance.
Ned never was certain whether he had made
any verbal response; but he remembered the
way in which his heart had leaped into his
throat and stuck there, as well as the narrow
escape he had had from dashing his brains out
against the locker-house, owing to the fact
that he had covered most of the way thither
at top speed. That had been on Thursday;
to-day, which was Saturday, he was a substitute
on the varsity, with a possibility—just
that and no more—of playing for a minute or
two against Robinson, and so winning his E in
his freshman year, a feat accomplished but
Ned had been the only member of the
freshman nine taken on the varsity that
spring. At first this had bothered him; there
were two or three others—notably Barrett,
the freshman captain—who were, in his estimation,
more deserving of the good fortune
than he. But, strange to say, it had been just
those two or three who had shown themselves
honestly glad at his luck, while the poorest
player on the nine had loudly hinted at favoritism.
Since Thursday night Ned had, of
course, made the acquaintance of all the varsity
men, and they had treated him as one of
themselves. But they were all, with the single
exception of Stilson, seniors and juniors, and
Ned knew that a freshman is still a freshman,
even if he does happen to be a varsity substitute.
Hence he avoided all appearance of
trying to force himself upon the others, and
so it was that on his journey to the grounds
he had only a bat-bag for companion.
The closely settled part of town was left
behind now, and the car was speeding over a
smooth, elm-lined avenue. Windows held the
brown banners of Robinson, but not often did
a dash of purple meet the gaze of the Erskine
players. At the farther end of the car McLimmont
and Housel and Lester were gathered
about “Baldy” Simson, the trainer, and
their laughter arose above the talk and whistling
of the rest. Nearer at hand, across the
aisle, sat “Lady” Levett, the big first-baseman.
Ned wondered why he was called
“Lady.” There was nothing ladylike apparent
about him. He was fully six feet one,
broad of shoulder, mighty of chest, deep of
voice, and dark of complexion—a jovial, bellowing
giant whom everybody liked. Beside
Levett sat Page, the head coach, and Hovey,
the manager. Then there were Greene and
Captain Milford beyond, and across from
them Hill and Kesner, both substitutes. In
the seat in front of Ned two big chaps were
talking together. They were Billings and
Stilson, the latter a sophomore.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” Billings was
saying. “If we lose I’ll buy you a dinner at
the Elm Tree Monday night; if we win you
do the same for me.”
“Oh, I don’t bet!”
“Get out! That’s fair, isn’t it, Brownie?”
A little round-faced chap across the aisle
nodded laughingly. His name was Browne
and he played short-stop. He wrote his name
with an e, and so his friends gave him the full
benefit of it.
“Yes, that’s fair,” said Browne. “We’re
bound to lose.”
“Oh, what are you afraid of?” said Stilson.
“No; that’s straight! We haven’t much
show; we can’t hit Dithman.”
“You can’t, maybe,” jeered Stilson.
“I’ll bet you can’t either, my chipper
“I’ll bet I get a hit off him!”
“Well, two, then. Come, now!”
“No; I won’t bet,” answered Browne,
grinning. “If there’s a prize ahead, there’s
no telling what you’ll do; is there, Pete?”
“No; he might even make a run,” responded
Billings. “But it’s going to take
more than two hits to win this game,” he went
on, dropping his voice, “for I’ll just tell you
they’re going to pound Hugh all over the
“Well, what if they do get a dozen runs
or so?” said Stilson. “Haven’t we got a
mighty batter, imported especially for the occasion,
to win out for us?”
“Whom do you mean?” asked Billings.
“I mean the redoubtable Mr. Brewster, of
course—the freshman Joan of Arc who is to
lead us to vict——”
“Not so loud,” whispered Browne, glancing
at Ned’s crimsoning cheeks.
Stilson swung around and shot a look at
the substitute, then turned back grinning.
“Cleared off nicely, hasn’t it?” he observed,
with elaborate nonchalance.
Ned said to himself, “He’s got it in for
me because he knows that if I play it will be in
The car slowed down with much clanging
of gong, and pushed its way through the crowd
before the entrance to the field. Then, with a
final jerk, it came to a stop. “All out, fellows!”
cried Hovey; and Ned followed the
others through the throng, noisy with the
shouts of ticket and score-card venders, to
the gate and dressing-room.
Ned sat on the bench. With him were
Hovey, the manager, who was keeping score,
Hill and Kesner, substitutes like himself, and,
at the farther end, Simson, the trainer, and
Page, the head coach. Page had pulled his
straw hat far over his eyes, but from under
the brim he was watching sharply every incident
of the diamond, the while he talked
with expressionless countenance to “Baldy.”
Back of them the grand stand was purple with
flags and ribbons, but at a little distance on
either side the purple gave place to the brown
of Robinson. Back of third base, at the west
end of the stand, the Robinson College band
held forth brazenly at intervals, making up in
vigor what it lacked in tunefulness. In front
of the spectators the diamond spread deeply
green, save where the base-lines left the dusty
red-brown earth exposed, and marked with
lines and angles of lime, which gleamed snow-white
in the afternoon sunlight. Beyond the
diamond the field stretched, as smooth and
even as a great velvet carpet, to a distant fence
and a line of trees above whose tops a turret
or tower here and there indicated the whereabouts
of town and college.
Ned had sat there on the bench during six
innings, the sun burning his neck and the dust
from the batsman’s box floating into his face.
In those six innings he had seen Erskine struggle
pluckily against defeat—a defeat which
now, with the score 12-6 in Robinson’s favor,
hovered, dark and ominous, above her. Yet
he had not lost hope; perhaps his optimism
was largely due to the fact that he found it
difficult to believe that Fate could be so cruel
as to make the occasion of his first appearance
with the varsity team one of sorrow. He was
only seventeen, and his idea of Fate was a
kind-hearted, motherly old soul with a watchful
interest in his welfare. Yet he was forced
to acknowledge that Fate, or somebody, was
treating him rather shabbily. The first half
of the seventh was as good as over, and still
he kicked his heels idly beneath the bench.
Page didn’t seem to be even aware of his presence.
To be sure, there were Hill and Kesner
in the same box, but that didn’t bring much
comfort. Besides, any one with half an eye
could see that Stilson should have been taken
off long ago; he hadn’t made a single hit, and
already had three errors marked against him.
Ned wondered how his name would look in the
column instead of Stilson’s, and edged along
the bench until he could look over Hovey’s
shoulder. The manager glanced up, smiled
in a perfunctory way, and credited the Robinson
runner with a stolen base. Ned read the
batting list again:
Billings, r. f.
Greene, l. f.
Milford, 2b., Capt.
Stilson, c. f.
There was a sudden burst of applause from
the seats behind, and a red-faced senior with
a wilted collar balanced himself upon the railing
and begged for “one more good one, fellows!”
The first of the seventh was at an
end, and the Erskine players, perspiring and
streaked with dust, trotted in. “Lady”
Levett sank down on the bench beside Ned
with a sigh, and fell to examining the little
finger of his left hand, which looked very red,
and which refused to work in unison with its
“Hurt?” asked Ned.
“Blame thing’s bust, I guess,” said
“Lady,” disgustedly. “Oh, Baldy, got
some tape there?”
The trainer, wearing the anxious air of a
hen with one chicken, bustled up with his
black bag, and Ned watched the bandaging of
the damaged finger until the sudden calling
of his name by the head coach sent his heart
into his throat and brought him leaping to his
feet with visions of hopes fulfilled. But his
heart subsided again in the instant, for what
Page said was merely:
“Brewster, you go over there and catch
for Greene, will you?” And then, turning
again to the bench, “Kesner, you play left
field next half.”
Ned picked up a catcher’s mitt, and for
the rest of the half caught the balls that the
substitute pitcher sent him as he warmed up
to take Lester’s place. Greene didn’t keep
him so busy, however, that he couldn’t watch
the game. Milford had hit safely to right
field and had reached second on a slow bunt by
Lester. The wavers of the purple flags implored
little Browne to “smash it out!” But
the short-stop never found the ball, and Housel
took his place and lifted the sphere just
over second-baseman’s head into the outfield.
The bases were full. The red-faced senior
was working his arms heroically and begging
in husky tones for more noise. And when, a
minute later, McLimmont took up his bat and
faced the Robinson pitcher, the supporters of
the purple went mad up there on the sun-smitten
stand and drowned the discordant efforts
of the Robinson band.
McLimmont rubbed his hands in the dust,
rubbed the dust off on his trousers, and swung
his bat. Dithman, who had puzzled Erskine
batters all day and had pitched a magnificent
game for six innings, shook himself together.
McLimmont waited. No, thank you, he didn’t
care for that out-shoot, nor for that drop, nor
for— What? A strike, did he say? Well,
perhaps it did go somewhere near the plate,
though to see it coming you’d have thought it
was going to be a passed ball! One and two,
wasn’t it? Thanks; there was no hurry then,
so he’d just let that in-curve alone, wait until
something worth while came along, and—Eh!
what was that? Strike two! Well, well,
well, of all the umpires this fellow must be a
beginner! Never mind that, though. But
he’d have to look sharp now or else——
Off sped the ball, and off sped McLimmont.
The former went over first-baseman’s
head; the latter swung around the bag like an
automobile taking a corner, and raced for second,
reaching it on his stomach a second before
the ball. There was rejoicing where the
purple flags fluttered, for Captain Milford
and Lester had scored.
But Erskine’s good fortune ended there.
McLimmont was thrown out while trying to
steal third, and Levett popped a short fly into
the hands of the pitcher. Greene trotted off
to the box, and Ned walked dejectedly back to
the bench. Page stared at him in surprise.
Then, “Didn’t I tell you to play center
field?” he ejaculated.
Ned’s heart turned a somersault and landed
in his throat. He stared dumbly back at the
head coach and shook his head. As he did so
he became aware of Stilson’s presence on the
“What? Well, get a move on!” said
Get a move on! Ned went out to center as
though he had knocked a three-bagger and
wanted to get home on it. Little Browne
grinned at him as he sped by.
“Good work, Brewster!” he called, softly.
Over at left, Kesner, happy over his own
good fortune, waved congratulations. In the
Erskine section the desultory hand-clapping
which had accompanied Ned’s departure for
center field died away, and the eighth inning
began with the score 12-8.
From center field the grand stands are
very far away. Ned was glad of it. He felt
particularly happy and wanted to have a good
comfortable grin all to himself. He had won
his E. Nothing else mattered very much now.
So grin he did to his heart’s content, and even
jumped up and down on his toes a few times;
he would have liked to sing or whistle, but
that was out of the question. And then suddenly
he began to wonder whether he had not,
after all, secured the coveted symbol under
false pretense; would he be able to do any better
than Stilson had done? Robinson’s clever
pitcher had fooled man after man; was it
likely that he would succeed where the best
batsmen of the varsity nine had virtually
failed? Or, worse, supposing he showed up
no better here in the outfield than had Stilson!
The sun was low in the west and the
atmosphere was filled with a golden haze; it
seemed to him that it might be very easy to
misjudge a ball in that queer glow. Of a sudden
his heart began to hammer at his ribs sickeningly.
He was afraid—afraid that he would
fail, when the trial came, there with the whole
college looking on! Little shivers ran up his
back, and he clenched his hands till they hurt.
He wished, oh, how he wished it was over!
Then there came the sharp sound of bat
against ball, and in an instant he was racing
in toward second, his thoughts intent upon the
brown speck that sailed high in air, his fears
Back sped second-baseman, and on went
Ned. “My ball!” he shouted. Milford
hesitated an instant, then gave up the attempt.
“All yours, Brewster!” he shouted back.
“Steady!” Ned finished his run and glanced
up, stepped a little to the left, put up his
hands, and felt the ball thud against his glove.
Then he fielded it to second and trotted back;
and as he went he heard the applause, loud
and hearty, from the stands. After that there
was no more fear. Robinson failed to get a
man past first, and presently he was trotting
in to the bench side by side with Kesner.
“Brewster at bat!” called Hovey, and,
with a sudden throb at his heart, Ned selected
a stick and went to the plate. He stood there
swinging his bat easily, confidently, as one
who is not to be fooled by the ordinary wiles
of the pitcher, a well-built, curly-haired
youngster with blue eyes, and cheeks in which
the red showed through the liberal coating of
“The best batter the freshmen had,” fellows
whispered one to another.
“Looks as though he knew how, too, eh?
Just you watch him, now!”
And the red-faced senior once more demanded
three long Erskines, three times
three, and three long Erskines for Brewster!
And Ned heard them—he couldn’t very well
have helped it!—and felt very grateful and
proud. And five minutes later he was back
on the bench, frowning miserably at his
knuckles, having been struck out without the
least difficulty by the long-legged Dithman.
The pride was all gone. “But,” he repeated,
silently, “wait until next time! Just wait
until next time!”
Billings found the Robinson pitcher for a
two-bagger, stole third, and came home on a
hit by Greene. Erskine’s spirits rose another
notch. Three more runs to tie the score in
this inning, and then—why, it would be strange
indeed if the purple couldn’t win out! Captain
Milford went to bat in a veritable tempest
of cheers. He looked determined; but so did
his adversary, the redoubtable Dithman.
“We’ve got to tie it this inning,” said
Levett, anxiously. “We’ll never do it next,
when the tail-enders come up.”
“There’s one tail-ender who’s going to hit
that chap in the box next time,” answered
“Lady” looked amused.
“You’ll be in luck if it comes around to
you,” he said. “We all will. Oh, thunder!
A moment later they were on their feet,
and the ball was arching into left field; and
“Big Jim” was plowing his way around first.
But the eighth inning ended right there, for
the ball plumped into left-fielder’s hands.
“Lady” groaned, picked up his big mitt, and
ambled to first, and the ninth inning began
with the score 12 to 9.
Greene was determined that Robinson
should not increase his tally, even to the extent
of making it a baker’s dozen. And he
pitched wonderful ball, striking out the first
two batsmen, allowing the next to make first
on a hit past short-stop, and then bringing the
half to an end by sending three glorious balls
over the corner of the plate one after another,
amid the frantic cheers of the Erskine contingent
and the dismay of the puzzled batsman.
Then the rival nines changed places for the
last time, and Robinson set grimly and determinedly
about the task of keeping Erskine’s
players from crossing the plate again.
And Milford, leaning above Hovey’s shoulder,
viewed the list of batting candidates and
ruefully concluded that she would not have
much trouble doing it.
The stands were emptying and the spectators
were ranging themselves along the base-lines.
The Robinson band had broken out
afresh, and the Robinson cheerers were confident.
The sun was low in the west, and the
shadows of the stands stretched far across the
diamond. Kesner, who had taken Lester’s
place in the batting list, stepped to the plate
and faced Dithman, and the final struggle
Dithman looked as calmly confident as at
any time during the game, and yet, after
pitching eight innings of excellent ball, it
scarcely seemed likely that he could still
command perfect form. Kesner proved a
foeman worthy of his steel; the most seductive
drops and shoots failed to entice him, and with
three balls against him Dithman was forced
to put the ball over the plate. The second
time he did it, Kesner found it and went to
first on a clean hit into the outfield past third,
and the purple banners flaunted exultantly.
Milford’s face took on an expression of hopefulness
as he dashed to first and whispered
his instructions in Kesner’s ear. Then he
retired to the coaches’ box and put every effort
into getting the runner down to second. But
Fate came to his assistance and saved him
some breath. Dithman lost command of the
dirty brown sphere for one little moment, and
it went wild, striking Greene on the thigh.
And when he limped to first Kesner went on
to second, and there were two on bases, and
Erskine was mad with joy. Milford and
Billings were coaching from opposite corners,
Milford’s bellowing being plainly heard a
quarter of a mile away; he had a good, hearty
voice, and for the first time that day it bothered
the Robinson pitcher. For Housel, waiting
for a chance to make a bunt, was kept busy
getting out of the way of the balls, and after
four of them was given his base.
Erskine’s delight was now of the sort best
expressed by turning somersaults. As somersaults
were out of the question, owing to the
density of the throng, her supporters were
forced to content themselves with jumping up
and down and shouting the last breaths from
their bodies. Bases full and none out! Three
runs would tie the score! Four runs would
win! And they’d get them, of course; there
was no doubt about that—at least, not until
McLimmont had struck out and had turned
back to the bench with miserable face. Then
it was Robinson’s turn to cheer. Erskine
looked doubtful for a moment, then began her
husky shouting again; after all, there was
only one out. But Dithman, rather pale of
face, had himself in hand once more. To the
knowing ones, Levett, who followed McLimmont,
was already as good as out; the way in
which he stood, the manner in which he “went
down” for the balls, proved him nervous and
overanxious. With two strikes and three
balls called on him, he swung at a wretched
out-shoot. A low groan ran along the bench.
Levett himself didn’t groan; he placed his bat
carefully on the ground, kicked it ten yards
away, and said “Confound the luck!” very
“You’re up, Brewster,” called Hovey.
“Two gone! Last man, fellows!” shouted
the Robinson catcher, as Ned tapped the plate.
“Last man!” echoed the second-baseman.
“Make him pitch ’em, Brewster!” called
Milford. The rest was drowned in the sudden
surge of cheers from the Robinson side.
Ned faced the pitcher with an uncomfortable
empty feeling inside of him. He meant to hit
that ball, but he greatly feared he wouldn’t;
he scarcely dared think what a hit meant.
For a moment he wished himself well out of it—wished
that he was back on the bench and
that another had his place and his chance to
win or lose the game. Then the first delivery
sped toward him, and much of his nervousness
“Ball!” droned the umpire.
Milford and Levett were coaching again;
it was hard to say whose voice was the loudest.
Down at first Housel was dancing back and
forth on his toes, and back of him Milford,
kneeling on the turf, was roaring: “Two gone,
Jack, remember! Run on anything! Look
out for a passed ball! Now you’re off! Hi,
hi, hi! Look out! He won’t throw! Take a
lead—go on! Watch his arm; go down with
his arm! Now you’re off! Now, now,
But if this was meant to rattle the pitcher
it failed of its effect. Dithman swung his
arm out, danced forward on his left foot, and
shot the ball away.
“Strike!” said the umpire.
Ned wondered why he had let that ball go
by; he had been sure that it was going to cut
the plate, and yet he had stood by undecided
until it was too late. Well! He gripped his
bat a little tighter, shifted his feet a few
inches, and waited again. Dithman’s expression
of calm unconcern aroused his ire;
just let him get one whack at that ball and he
would show that long-legged pitcher something
to surprise him! A palpable in-shoot
followed, and Ned staggered out of its way.
Then came what was so undoubtedly a ball
that Ned merely smiled at it. Unfortunately
at the last instant it dropped down below his
shoulder, and he waited anxiously for the
“Strike two!” called the umpire.
Two and two! Ned’s heart sank. He
shot a glance toward first. Milford was
staring over at him imploringly. Ned gave
a gasp and set his jaws together firmly. The
pitcher had the ball again, and was signaling
to the catcher. Then out shot his arm, the
little one-legged hop followed, and the ball
sped toward the boy at the plate. And his
heart gave a leap, for the delivery was a
straight ball, swift, to be sure, but straight
and true for the plate. Ned took one step
forward, and ball and bat met with a sound
like a pistol-shot, and a pair of purple-stockinged
legs were flashing toward first.
Up, up against the gray-blue sky went the
sphere, and then it seemed to hang for a moment
there, neither rising nor falling. And
all the time the bases were emptying themselves.
Kesner was in ere the ball was well
away, Greene was close behind him, and now
Housel, slower because of his size, was swinging
by third; and from second sped a smaller,
lithe figure with down-bent head and legs
fairly flying. Coaches were shouting wild,
useless words, and none but themselves heard
them; for four thousand voices were shrieking
frenziedly, and four thousand pairs of
eyes were either watching the flight of the far-off
ball, or were fixed anxiously upon the
figure of left-fielder, who, away up near the
fence and the row of trees, was running desperately
Ned reached second, and, for the first time
since he had started around, looked for the
ball, and, as he did so, afar off across the
turf a figure stooped and picked something
from the ground and threw it to center-fielder,
and center-fielder threw it to third-baseman,
and meanwhile Ned trotted over the plate
into the arms of “Big Jim” Milford, and
Hovey made four big black tallies in the score-book.
Three minutes later and it was all
over, Billings flying out to center field, and the
final score stood 13-12. Erskine owned the
field, and Ned, swaying and slipping dizzily
about on the shoulders of three temporary
lunatics, looked down upon a surging sea of
shouting, distorted faces, and tried his hardest
to appear unconcerned—and was secretly
very, very happy. He had his E; best of all,
he had honestly earned it.
Ned trotted over the plate into the arms of “Big Jim” Milford.